Nordmann's Greenshank, Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 17 Sept. 2016. Photo by Hiko using iPhone of Craig Brelsford.

Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer!

Distinguishing non-breeding Nordmann’s Greenshank from Common Greenshank is a tricky task, but one that reaps rewards. With practice you too can feel the rush that comes when you realize that the greenshank you are viewing is not one of the most common shorebirds in Eurasia, but one of the rarest. On Sat. 17 Sept. 2016 at Cape Nanhui in Pudong, our team experienced that thrill, picking out a Nordmann’s in a roost holding a few hundred shorebirds.

We noted the following:

— Tibiae of Nordmann’s Greenshank are noticeably shorter than those of Common Greenshank.

Nordmann's Greenshank (L) has an appreciably higher 'knee' than the longer- and thinner-legged Common Greenshank (R). Both photos taken by Craig Brelsford in Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu in October 2014 (Nordmann's) and May 2011 (Common).
Nordmann’s Greenshank (L) has an appreciably higher ‘knee’ than the longer- and thinner-legged Common Greenshank (R). Both photos taken at Yangkou, Nordmann’s October 2014, Common May 2010. (Craig Brelsford)

The picture above makes it clear. The biggest reason Nordmann’s is known as the stockier bird, the rugby player compared to the ballerina that is Common Greenshank, is tibia and leg length.

— Nordmann’s has a thicker neck that it often holds closer to its body and has a pronounced ventral angle (protruding belly), giving Nordmann’s a more hunched appearance than Common.

The larger head and thicker neck of Nordmann's (top) give it a more hunched appearance than the more graceful Common (bottom).
The larger head and thicker neck of Nordmann’s (top) give it a more hunched appearance than the more graceful Common (bottom). Both photos taken at Yangkou, Nordmann’s October 2014, Common May 2014. (Craig Brelsford)

As with many of the characters of these species, the hunched stance of Nordmann’s is not always obvious, especially when the bird is active. Likewise, even a Common sometimes can appear stout. But as one’s observation time grows, the classic features of both species will emerge.

Nordmann’s has a thicker, more obviously bi-colored bill than Common.

As is the case with the legs, the bill of Nordmann's (top) is thicker than the bill of Common (bottom). The more obviously bi-colored bill of Nordmann's is yellow at the base.
As is the case with the legs, the bill of Nordmann’s (top) is thicker than the bill of Common (bottom). The more obviously bi-colored bill of Nordmann’s is yellow at the base. (Craig Brelsford)

Because the Nordmann’s at our Nanhui roost did not fly, we missed the following key characteristics:

The toes of Nordmann’s project just beyond the tail-tip; the toes of Common project farther.

With its shorter legs, Nordmann's Greenshank (top) shows just a bit of toe projection. The longer-legged Common Greenshank (bottom) shows more.
With its shorter legs, Nordmann’s (top) shows just a bit of toe projection. The longer-legged Common (bottom) shows more. Both photos taken at Yangkou, Nordmann’s October 2014, Common May 2010. (Craig Brelsford)

This difference can be subtle, and a good camera is sometimes needed to appreciate it. But it is consistent.

Nordmann’s has a cleaner tail and underwing than Common.

The tail and underwing of Nordmann's Greenshank are clean white (panels 1, 2). The tail and underwing of Common Greenshank are streakier (3, 4). All photos in this section taken by Craig Brelsford in <a href="http://www.shanghaibirding.com/sites/yangkou/" target="_blank">Yangkou</a>, Rudong, Jiangsu in May 2011, May 2014, and October 2014.
The tail and underwing of Nordmann’s are clean white (panels 1, 2). The tail and underwing of Common are browner (3, 4). (Craig Brelsford)

Even if your Nordmann’s is roosting, you can sometimes note the white underwing. Wait for the bird to stretch out its wing.

Other differences:

Nordmann's Greenshank stands among waders at a dry roost in Nanhui, Shanghai Sat. 16 Sept. 2016. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko.
Nordmann’s Greenshank stands among waders at a dry roost at Cape Nanhui, Sat. 17 Sept. 2016. We found the birds at 30.920549, 121.963247. Note the high ‘knee,’ obviously bi-colored bill, and hunched, ‘no-neck’ stance. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko using Kowa TSN 883 Prominar spotting scope and Kowa TSN IP6 adapter and Craig Brelsford’s iPhone 6.

The calls of Nordmann’s Greenshank and Common Greenshank are markedly different. The well-known “chew-chew-chew” call of Common is never made by Nordmann’s.

In breeding plumage the species are more readily distinguishable. Nordmann’s Greenshank is also known as Spotted Greenshank for good reason. The heavily spotted underparts of breeding Nordmann’s are diagnostic. Unfortunately for birders in Shanghai, however, Nordmann’s in full breeding plumage is rarely seen.

Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer is an endangered species. Only 500 to 1,000 of these birds are thought to remain. Development along the East Asian coast is the main reason for its decline. Nordmann’s breeds in Russia, passes through China, and winters in Southeast Asia. It is present in the Shanghai area for several months each year.

OTHER GOOD STUFF

The Nordmann’s took top billing on a day that saw veteran British birder Michael Grunwell, my wife Elaine Du, and me note 71 species at Cape Nanhui, Lesser Yangshan Island, and the sod farm south of Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). We were joined at the roost and Nanhui microforests by the crack high-school birding team of Larry Chen, Komatsu Yasuhiko, Chi Shu, and Andy Lee.

Our Non-Nordmann highlights:

White-winged Tern

We noted 2500 at Nanhui, by far the highest number of White-winged Tern that I have seen. They made quite a spectacle, fluttering like snowflakes over the reed beds.

Common Tern

One of the three Common Tern at the roost that contained Nordmann's Greenshank. I massively overexposed the legs (inset) to reveal the red color and nail the ID of Common. Photo by Hiko for shanghaibirding.com.
One of the three Common Tern at the roost that contained Nordmann’s Greenshank. I massively overexposed the legs (inset) to reveal a hint of the red color, enough to clinch the ID of Common. (Komatsu Yasuhiko)

Three at the roost. Michael and I discussed whether Aleutian Tern, similar to Common Tern in winter plumage, passes through Shanghai and has been overlooked. Check for the red legs of Common; if the legs appear black, then keep investigating; you may have an Aleutian.

Ruddy Shelduck

Ruddy Shelduck is uncommon in Shanghai; I have recorded flocks at Chongming but had never seen the species at Nanhui. We saw a single Ruddy in the marshy agricultural land north of Luchao (芦潮; 30.851111, 121.848528).

Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Great Knot, Red Knot, Grey-tailed Tattler

The godwits, knots, and tattlers were in the dry roost with the Nordmann’s. Every one of these species is at least near-threatened; Great Knot is endangered.

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

After the excitement with the Nordmann’s at the roost, the seven of us covered the microforests. Our teamwork paid off with a view of Black-winged Cuckooshrike, an uncommon passage migrant in Shanghai.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata is the most numerous member of its genus to pass through the Shanghai region. Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei also passes through, but in smaller numbers.
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata is the most numerous member of its genus to pass through Shanghai. Amur Paradise Flycatcher T. incei also passes through, but in smaller numbers. I found this individual, a male, in Microforest 2 (30.926138, 121.970795). Like most male paradise flycatchers on passage in Shanghai, it was missing its spectacular elongated tail feathers. For more on distinguishing Japanese and Amur Paradise Flycatcher, see Craig’s post of 10 October 2016: ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers. (Craig Brelsford)

Yet another near-threatened species, Terpsiphone atrocaudata is common on migration in Shanghai. We noted 10 on Saturday. Care must be taken to separate this species from Amur Paradise Flycatcher T. incei, which passes through Shanghai in smaller numbers. Male and female Japanese have a more extensive dark hood, extending almost to the belly, whereas that of Amur extends only to the upper breast. For more help distinguishing these two species, see my post ID Workshop: Paradise Flycatchers.

On Lesser Yangshan we found Oriental Dollarbird. Our final stop was the sod farm south of Pudong International Airport, where we found 4 Pacific Golden Plover and 200 Oriental Pratincole.

Featured image: Nordmann’s Greenshank stands among wader roost at Cape Nanhui, 17 Sept. 2016. Using the principles described in this post, our team was able to ID this Nordmann’s. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko (“Hiko”) using his Kowa TSN 883 Prominar spotting scope and Kowa TSN IP6 adapter and Craig Brelsford’s iPhone 6.

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. When he departed China, Craig was the top-ranked eBirder in the country, having noted 932 species, as well as the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai (323 species). A 1993 graduate of the University of Florida, Craig was an award-winning newspaper editor in the United States for 10 years. In 2002, Craig earned a master's in business administration from the University of Liege in Belgium. Craig lives in Debary, Florida.

2 thoughts on “Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer!”

  1. Hi Craig

    Excellent article.
    Just a question. Can you specify the location in Nanhui where the picture of the banner of the present page has been shot (the one with the multiple birds on the mud flat)?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Louis, and thanks for writing. As noted in the post, we found the Nordmann’s Greenshank and other waders at 30.920549, 121.963247. Drive 4.2 km north from the Holiday Inn along the sea-wall road and make a left onto the road leading inland. Drive inland on that road a few hundred meters.

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